On Monday in New Orleans, first lady Michelle Obama joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu and community members to congratulate them for becoming the first city in the nation to achieve the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To help other cities reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness this year, the first lady announced three new resources.
As part of celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of the Joining Forces initiative, Mrs. Obama highlighted the progress seen on behalf of veterans on employment, education, health care and mental health. Recognizing that veteran homelessness is at the intersection of these elements, the first lady said the issue “cuts straight to the core of what it means to support those who serve our country.”
“When we have tens of thousands of veterans who don’t have somewhere to go when it rains – that is a stain on our nation,” said Mrs. Obama. “That’s why, as President, my husband has vowed not to simply manage this problem but to end it. And overall, since 2010, we’ve housed nearly 230,000 veterans and their families.”
In January, Mayor Landrieu announced the city was the first to reach the historic milestone of achieving functional zero for homeless veterans. The city’s progress accelerated after Mayor Landrieu became one of the first mayors to join the challenge.
“This isn’t just an extraordinary achievement for the city, this is a call-to-action to our entire country,” said Mrs. Obama. “You all have proven that, even in a city as big as New Orleans, veterans’ homelessness is not a reality that we have to accept. It is not an impossible problem that’s too big to solve. Just the opposite – you’ve shown us that when leaders make this problem a priority and bring the right folks to the table, we can find a solution.”
Noting the importance of mayoral leadership, Mrs. Obama highlighted the actions taken by some of the other 570 mayors, governors and local officials who have committed to ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year.
- Los Angeles housed more than 5,000 veterans last year.
- New York City has cut the number of homeless veterans by more than half.
- Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle and Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Calif. have supplemented federal funds with city funds to provide rental subsidies and rapid rehousing services.
- Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has invested nearly $3 million for homeless veterans, plus even more for veterans’ security deposits
To support mayors who have joined the challenge, Mrs. Obama announced that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would begin regular conference calls to discuss proven best practices.
In addition, the first lady announced the availability of nearly $65 million to help more than 9,300 homeless veterans find permanent housing with HUD-VASH vouchers.
Finally, Mrs. Obama announced a commitment from Blackstone Equity to provide “Welcome Home Kits” for veterans when they transition into new housing. Blackstone’s portfolio of companies, such as Hilton, Motel 6, and La Quinta Inns and Suites, will be working with local leaders in 25 cities to provide furniture, appliances and other supplies.
The mayor noted that many of the lessons applied to ending veteran homelessness arose from the city’s experiences following Hurricane Katrina. Among these lessons was the importance of convening stakeholders to facilitate vertical and horizontal communication among local, state and federal agencies.
Mayor Landrieu pointed to his unique ability as mayor to convene and ensure that all stakeholders were “pulling in the same direction.”
As collective conversations were held, the community recognized the need for help identifying homeless veterans throughout the region, as well as a need for more housing. To meet these challenges, the mayor reached out to area landlords and property management companies, particularly those that were already working with the city and local housing authorities.
In addition, the community engaged the area’s active duty military personnel and veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. With the participation of other veterans, more of their homeless peers were identified, engaged and connected to services.
Throughout the day, the first lady and Mayor Landrieu urged participants of the Mayors Challenge to bring together key representatives to better understand what is happening to end veteran homelessness in their community. To help mayors identify where to start their conversations, the National League of Cities (NLC) has developed Three Steps & Five Questions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has published Five High Impact Steps, and HUD has compiled numerous resources as part of the Mayors Challenge Desk Book.
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.